I have experimented with nearly every draft strategy you can imagine in my 25 years of playing fantasy baseball. And while there are many plans that ultimately led me to league titles, here are the ones that have worked well on a consistent basis.
Strategy No. 1: Ace trio
I have drafted during several ups and downs in the league-wide scoring rate, including the run-scoring bonanza from 2003 to '07 and the offensive depression from 2013 to '15. No matter how often teams are crossing home plate, some hurlers are going to stand out from the pack, and I want at least two of them on my team. This year I would like to draft at least three of the top-25 starters in Yahoo ADP, as I see the 2023 collection of aces as a deep group with few standouts. I’ll let my competitors pluck the initial three or four starters from the draft board, at which point I will dive in and secure three starters by the end of Round 8.
Strategy No. 2: Secure strikeouts
When targeting the three aces mentioned in the preceding paragraph, I focus on projected strikeout totals. Although ERA and WHIP are extremely important fantasy categories, they tend to fluctuate for individual pitchers each year, as batted-ball results and strand rates bring an element of luck into the equation. I will target aces who I know will provide plenty of whiffs while hoping they have the necessary good fortune to have stellar ratios as well.
Strategy No. 3: Saves anchor
Nearly half of major-league teams have not yet settled on a closer, and on several other clubs, the hurlers who have ninth-inning jobs lack the skills and résumés to survive more than a few bad outings. For me, it is an absolute necessity to come out of my 2023 draft with one of these eight relievers: Emmanuel Clase, Josh Hader, Devin Williams, Jordan Romano, Felix Bautista, Raisel Iglesias, Ryan Pressly or Ryan Helsley. I’m not going to draft two of these pitchers, as they require a significant investment, but I want to have one 30-save anchor before working the late rounds and waiver wire to find more saves. Similar to my plan with aces, I’ll allow other managers to start the run on closers before jumping in once two or three have been drafted.
Strategy No. 4: Balanced skill sets
Shifting our attention to hitters, the goal should be to find as many players as possible who make significant contributions in several categories. During the shortened 2020 season, I conducted some research on year-over-year performance of players who ranked among the league leaders in one category. My findings were clear: Players who produce noteworthy numbers in a single category are unlikely to repeat the feat the following year. For this reason, my draft targets are players who can post a helpful batting average while providing solid totals in both homers and steals. These players could offset a dip in one area by surging in another, which makes them safer options to draft.
Strategy No. 5: Boring early, exciting late
Regardless of league size, my goal during the initial two-thirds of my draft is to select a deep group of players who each have a high floor. I target players who have enough MLB experience to have established a baseline of success, and I generally avoid those who could be primed for age-related decline. Additionally, I will be skeptical about players returning from significant injuries. But I completely flip the script in the final one-third of my draft by chasing players who have the potential to take a major step forward. With these smaller investments, I happily grab players coming off a disappointing year. And I will add a hot prospect or two, with the knowledge that I can release them early in the season if things don’t go as planned.
Strategy No. 6: Multi-position players
I want to make sure my roster is populated with at least a couple of players who can be slotted into multiple positions. Having multi-position players is absolutely essential in leagues with daily transactions, as it ensures that a manager can field a full lineup when players inevitably get days off. And in leagues in which active rosters are altered on a weekly basis, having a few hitters who qualify at multiple spots ensures that managers roll out their best lineup each scoring period.
Strategy No. 7: Wait on catcher
This tip is specifically for those in leagues that use just one catcher lineup spot, which includes the vast majority of Yahoo leagues. The lack of overall production at the catcher position creates a low bar for fantasy relevance. Last season, Cal Raleigh came off the waiver wire to hit 27 homers, William Contreras emerged from nowhere to hit .278 with 20 long balls, and rookies such as Adley Rutschman and MJ Melendez emerged as valuable contributors. Beyond those memorable players, catchers such as Danny Jansen and Jonah Heim had stretches of 2022 when they were valuable lineup members. I’m happy to open the season with someone such as Jansen while watching the waivers for the next big thing.